Combinatorial Synthetic Peptide Vaccine Strategy Protects against Hypervirulent CovR/S Mutant Streptococci
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Cluster of virulence responder/sensor (CovR/S) mutant group A streptococci (GAS) are serious human pathogens of multiple M protein strains that upregulate expression of virulence factors, including the IL-8 protease Streptococcus pyogenes cell envelope proteinase (SpyCEP), thus blunting neutrophil-mediated killing and enabling ingress of bacteria from a superficial wound to deep tissue. We previously showed that a combination vaccine incorporating J8-DT (conserved peptide vaccine from the M protein) and a recombinant SpyCEP fragment protects against CovR/S mutants. To enhance the vaccine’s safety profile, we identified a minimal epitope (S2) that was the target for anti-SpyCEP Abs that could protect IL-8 from SpyCEP-mediated proteolysis. Abs from healthy humans and from mice experimentally infected with GAS also recognized S2, albeit at low titers. Native SpyCEP may be poorly immunogenic (cryptic or subdominant), and it would be to the organism’s advantage if the host did not induce a strong Ab response against it. However, S2 conjugated to diphtheria toxoid is highly immunogenic and induces Abs that recognize and neutralize SpyCEP. Hence, we describe a two-component peptide vaccine that induces Abs (anti-S2) that protect IL-8 from proteolysis and other Abs (anti-J8) that cause strain-independent killing in the presence of neutrophils. We show that either component alone is ineffectual in preventing skin infection and bacteremia due to CovR/S mutants but that the combination induces complete protection. This protection correlated with a significant influx of neutrophils to the infection site. The data strongly suggest that the lack of natural immunity to hypervirulent GAS strains in humans could be rectified by this combination vaccine.
Journal of Immunology
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Immunology not elsewhere classified